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IWD24: Prospects for more female MPs from Wales?

Richard John
Richard John

Wales has been sending Members of Parliament to Westminster since the Act of Union in 1536.  Since then, hundreds of MPs have represented Welsh constituencies but among them, only 25 women and until 1997, there had only ever been four female MPs in Wales.  The very first was Megan Lloyd George, daughter of the Liberal Prime Minister, elected as the MP for Anglesey in 1929.  In the hundred years since, the gender balance of Welsh MPs barely changed until the mid-2000s and it was only in 2017 that women represented over a quarter of Welsh MPs for the first time.  So as parties conclude their candidate selections for the 2024 General Election, what are the prospects for a greater proportion of female MPs being elected?

Boundary changes

The parliamentary boundary changes represented both a threat and opportunity in terms of electing more female MPs.  Currently 19 of the 40 Welsh constituencies have never elected a female MP.  The number of Welsh MPs will fall this year from 40 to 32, but all current female MPs, with the exception of Labour’s Beth Winter in Cynon Valley and Christina Rees in Neath, have been reselected for successor seats.  Therefore, if no constituencies change hands, the proportion of female Welsh MPs would rise marginally from 35% in 2019 to 37.5%, but only four women short of equality.

Welsh Labour

Voters elected their first two Welsh Labour female MPs in 1950, but it wasn’t until 1997 that Labour’s tally rose to four and the Party made incremental progress until it most recently elected 10 female MPs in both 2017 and 2019.

The Party has so far selected 31 of its 32 candidates, including 15 women, of whom 13 are in winnable seats.  In Clwyd East, Clwyd North and Monmouthshire Labour will be hoping to defeat James Davies MP, Darren Millar MS and David TC Davies MP with new female MPs.

However, it would be wrong to assume that the more successful Labour is, the more women will be elected, simply because Labour have chosen almost 50% female candidates.  In the three constituencies held and contested by Conservative MPs Fay Jones in Brecon, Radnor and Cwm Tawe, Sarah Atherton in Wrexham and Virginia Crosbie in Ynys Mon, Labour is the primary challenger but has selected male candidates in all three seats.

Opinion polls pointing to a 20-point Labour lead would see the party picking up around 28 of the 32 Welsh seats, proportionally replicating its 1997 victory, but Labour will be competing with Plaid Cymru to take advantage of Tory woes in both Ynys Mon and Caerfyrddin.

Welsh Conservatives

The story of the 2024 General Election will be the extent to which the Welsh Conservatives can hold on to the seats they won in their sensational election victory in 2019, which included gains in Wrexham, Ynys Mon and Brecon and Radnorshire.  The Party had finally elected its very first female Welsh MPs, 100 years almost to the day after the Conservatives in England elected their first MP, Nancy Astor in 1919.  Having never had a female MP until 2019 had been a sore subject for the Welsh Conservatives, in the same way that having never had a female leader continues to be problematic for Labour.

It would be difficult for any party to improve the diversity of its elected members following a high watermark election with most incumbents restanding. Of the 12 seats the party would notionally have won in 2019 on the new boundaries, only Clwyd North and Bridgend, where Senedd Member Darren Millar and Rhondda Cynon Taff councillor Sam Trask were respectively selected.

So far, the Welsh Conservatives have selected 20 of their 32 candidates, but of the eight unwinnable seats selected so far, only one constituency has selected a female candidate, Monmouthshire Councillor Rachel Buckler in Newport East.

Plaid Cymru

For a party that has only ever had one female MP, Liz Saville Roberts, who was elected for Dwyfor Meirionnydd in 2015, in this election Plaid has made more progress than ever before in selecting female candidates in winnable seats.  Plaid has selected Carmarthenshire councillor Ann Davies in Caerfyrddin, where the party needs a swing of just over 4% to unseat UK Government Chief Whip Simon Hart.  Plaid Cymru will have been bitterly disappointed to come third in Ynys Mon in 2019, but this time have selected local Council Leader Llinos Medi who will challenge incumbent Virginia Crosbie and will aim to become the island’s third female MP.

Under Adam Price’s leadership, Plaid’s story in the 2019 General, 2021 Senedd and 2022 local elections was generally one of consolidating their position in areas where they were already strong but falling back in the South Wales Valleys where they could be challenging Labour. 

The parliamentary boundary changes penalise Plaid with their number of notional wins under the new boundaries reduced from four to two, but successfully winning Ynys Mon and Caerfyrddin would effectively double their representation and three of their four MPs would be women.

Welsh Liberal Democrats

The Welsh Lib Dems have so far selected 14 candidates, of whom two are women, standing in Ynys Mon and Bangor Aberconwy.  They have selected their only realistic target seat of Brecon, Radnor and Cwm Tawe, where they may be pinning their hopes on tactical voting to replace Fay Jones with their candidate David Chadwick.  The party gained six councillors within the new Brecon, Radnor and Cwm Tawe constituency at the local elections in 2022 and now leads Powys County Council in a coalition with the Labour Party, while the Welsh Conservatives lost all but one of their councillors in the constituency.  As any seasoned campaigner will tell you, having local councillors matters to MPs as it’s both intel and boots on the ground.  Fay Jones gained the Brecon and Radnorshire seat in 2019 with a majority of just over 7,000, but the new seat takes in around 17,000 voters from seven wards in Neath Port Talbot with three Labour and six Plaid Cymru councillors. This all makes the seat much more unpredictable and opinion polls are inconsistent about who is most likely to win this seat.

Amongst its selections, the party has also chosen candidates for the successor seats to those it previously held, namely Cardiff East, Ceredigion Preseli and Montgomeryshire Glyndwr, but the Lib Dems will face stiff competition to even come second in these seats this year.


We are not expecting Reform to be competitive in any Welsh seats, but that is not to say their role in this election won’t be significant.  The fledgling party has confirmed it will contest every constituency in England, Wales and Scotland and in Conservative-held marginal seats the Party could inflict considerable damage to the Welsh Conservatives.  Predecessor parties to Reform, UKIP and the Brexit Party were actually more electorally successful in more traditional Labour seats in the South Wales Valleys and industrial areas of North Wales, but even taking a small share of the vote in Tory shires could translate into greater Tory losses.


With all parties having selected all their winnable seats apart from Welsh Labour in Swansea West, the stage is set for a series of potentially tightly fought contests to determine how Wales will be represented in Parliament until the end of the 2020s.  Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru have made particular progress in selecting female candidates in key seats, but certain Welsh Conservative losses could actually make it more difficult for Wales to become the first part of the UK to achieve gender parity.

Of the 32 new Welsh constituencies, 17 seats have a female candidate in a winnable position and there are nine female candidates in what would be considered safe seats.  This gives us a range for female representation in the new 2024 parliament from a minimum of 28% to a maximum of 53%. Progress on female representation amongst Welsh MPs has been tortuously slow and while we may see a further improvement in 2024, it may not be until the centenary of Welsh female MPs in 2029 that we finally achieve gender parity.

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